The Associated Press
Roger Goodell briefed all 255 members of this year’s draft class Monday on the NFL’s stricter conduct rules. Hours later, the Chicago Bears released troubled defensive tackle Tank Johnson in a move that most likely underscored the commissioner’s message.
“We’re concerned about them as men,” Goodell said at the league’s rookie symposium in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., shortly before Johnson’s release was announced. “How do they become not only great NFL players, but how do they become great men? How do they conduct themselves appropriately for the remainder of their life, not just when they’re in the National Football League?”
Goodell spent about 20 minutes with this season’s draftees on that topic, mostly in a question-and-answer session.
“I’d be naive to think everyone would be able to understand it,” Goodell said. “But I think we’re making players more aware of the standards of behavior. We’re giving them more tools and resources to make sure they can make those decisions.”
Goodell released his stricter policy in April, an attempt to quell a rash of off-the-field episodes involving NFL players, notably cases involving three suspended players — Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry and Johnson, who was cut by the reigning NFC champions.
Johnson spent time in jail this offseason after violating probation and was stopped in Arizona last week when police said he was speeding. He had blood drawn to determine if he was driving while impaired.
“He compromised the credibility of our organization,” Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. “We made it clear to him that he had no room for error. Our goal was to help someone through a difficult period in his life, but the effort needs to come from both sides. It didn’t, and we have decided to move on.”
It’s a situation the NFL clearly doesn’t like, which is where the emphasis on educating players comes in.
The rookie symposium teaches incoming NFL players — attendance is mandatory for draftees — about how to handle finances and relationships and how to prepare for life after football. But the conduct issue is one of Goodell’s priorities, and it’s taking center stage this year.
“You could see the players were engaged,” Goodell said. “They asked very good questions, very responsive questions to things that I said.”
This offseason has been dominated by news of players getting into trouble, including Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick’s alleged involvement with dogfighting and this past weekend’s arrest of Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Fred Evans on South Beach after he allegedly fought with police officers when he refused to leave a taxi.
Then there is the ongoing Jones saga. He faces two charges in a Las Vegas strip club melee that preceded a triple shooting, and was sought by Atlanta-area police last week for questioning in a shooting after a fight at another strip club.
Goodell said fans have been “quite supportive, quite positive” about the tougher policies, and he still believes most players understand — and abide — by the rules.
“The vast majority of our players do,” Goodell said. “There’s a select few that don’t. And they get a lot of focus ... and have a negative impact on the other players in our league and the NFL in general.”
The symposium, which also includes current and former players talking to the rookies about life in the NFL, a youth clinic and other events, continues through Wednesday. Speakers include current NFL players Vince Young, Reggie Bush, Jonathan Vilma and Jeff Saturday; Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel; NFL Hall of Famer and Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome; and NFL Players Association president Troy Vincent.